When Organic Becomes a Sham
You’ve got many food choices in front of you every day, for you, your family, and the animals in your care.
The food industry has long noticed that you’ll spend more for something labeled “organic.”
And, living in the age we do, that term is regularly bent and abused in pursuit of the holy grail of big production everywhere, the “bottom line.”
So it is with organic milk, a term now abused and overused to suck you in.
You’d be wise to go beyond the label before you plunk down your hard-earned cash and head home with what appears to be a lovely product.
Remember: you’re voting for someone and their values every time you open your pocketbook.
Dairy farmers are still near and dear to my heart, some 30 years since working with them as a newly graduated vet in my home state of Wisconsin.
They are truly the hardest working farmers of them all. The cows don’t take vacations, and they need to be milked twice a day, every day to stay in good health and milk production.
The problem is trying to make a living at dairying.
When you’re selling a commodity that’s closely controlled by others (read: big dairy companies who process, bottle and sell your milk to the public), you often get paid the bare minimum for your labors.
The way out for a while looked like it was organic milk.
To become an organic dairy farm means doing things differently:
- No antibiotics or hormones to the cows
- Pesticide-free grain, if fed (most feed some)
- Minimum 120 days access to pasture per year
Big Producers and Questionable Standards
It’s come to light recently that a handful of huge dairies (think thousands of cows per farm) are making life difficult for the more typical organic dairy farmer with 50-100 cows.
…six organic dairy farms in Texas produced 481.4 million pounds of milk in 2016, about 23% more than all of Wisconsin’s 453 organic dairy farms combined.1
Six Texas farms. Producing more milk than all of Wisconsin’s organic dairy farms combined.
The net effect is the driving down of prices for milk, and that’s especially hard on the family farms who got organic dairying off the ground years ago.
Before I left my dairy vet work for my next life chapter (then, as yet unknown, but that’s a story for another day), I worked for a handful of large dairies among the many, many typical small ones that dotted the landscape in Dodge County.
One in particular is etched in my mind.
The two brothers who ran the big farm were all business, and never pleasant to work for.
They decided they’d had enough with getting the occasional cow tail in the face when they milked the herd twice a day, so they made it a policy to cut off the tails of their cows.
These couple hundred cows were left with ugly stumps about a foot long.
And, they were always filthy, as they spent most of their days standing about in their own manure in semi-dark, smelly metal barns.
I swallowed hard when ever I got this farm on my day’s call list, gritted my teeth, and did the best I could, leaving as quickly as possible after discharging my duties.
It was grizzly.
The trend of “bigger, better, more efficient” continues today.
Even as family farms are facing the real possibility of closing their doors, Aurora Dairy, the nation’s largest factory farm organic dairy, and supplier to many of the nation’s biggest retail chains for their private label milk, is opening a new mega-plant in Missouri and expanding an additional factory farm in Colorado.2
The Contrasting Reality: Salt of the Earth
The norm in that early vet practice was small farmers who knew every cow by name, as well as her mother, grandmother, and likely several generations before that.
It was family.
Mom and Dad and every kid in the family helped with the cows and the milking, feeding, cleaning stalls, cleaning equipment, making hay, sileage, etc.
Often, Grandpa was out there as well, if he wasn’t off at his own small farm, tending heifers who’d become the next generation of milking cows.
The cows were clean, the barn was emptied for hours a day and whitened up with lime dust while the cows spent time out at pasture.
These farms were a joy to work in.
The farmers were always friendly, in good spirits even if times were tough, dedicated to their families and the herds that supported them, and they’d give you the shirt off their back if you needed help.
These same sorts of farms are typical of most organic dairy farms born over the past two decades, many of whom are now struggling to make a living.
What’s a Health-Conscious Consumer to Do?
Well first, know that you have a choice.
All that’s labeled “organic” likely is not adhering to the standards in raising the animals who bring us milk.
Here’s an example, from a fly-over, likely outlawed now, as is flying over all CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations).
This is from a Horizon dairy in Maryland, a huge player with a cheery organic-labeled carton:
Those big bodies of water are manure lagoons. They’ve got so much to deal with, they can’t just spread it on their cropland like normal farmers do. These lagoons send a foul smell for miles in every direction.
There’s a lot of green around this farm, right? Good pasture land?
Nope. Cropland. Cows not allowed.
You can see some on dirt lots in the foreground. No gamboling happening there, you can bet.
Now, here’s a regularly updated list of dairy products, a “scorecard” to help you decide who’s doing it right and who’s best not voted for with your next purchases.
If you want to go a step further, start buying “real milk!”
What’s REAL milk, exactly?
A few quick definitions are in order.
The best milk you can get and feed your animals, your family and your own body is:
- raw, unpasteurized
- from cows who live a normal grazing life (i.e. mostly or only grass fed)
This is all I drink, and here’s a tiny slice of the benefits to tickle your interest in pursuing this further:
There are many health benefits to consuming raw milk. Early studies showed that children consuming raw milk had greater resistance to disease, better growth and stronger teeth than children consuming pasteurized milk. Animal studies indicate that raw milk confers better bone structure, better organ development, better nutrient assimilation, better fertility and even better behavior than pasteurized milk.3
Wait. Better behavior?
Yes, remember the microbiome I wrote about earlier?
It turns out that a healthy gut translates into healthy minds. And raw milk supports a healthy gut.
The Weston A Price Foundation keeps a regularly updated list of local U.S. producers of this “white gold,” available here.
I’ll leave you with a company recommendation who’s using raw goat milk (which you’ll also find sources for at the link above): Answers Pet Food.
They are clearly on the forefront in making raw food diets for your family’s carnivores, and are one of the few pet food companies I know who is using fermentation to preserve their diets.
No HPP? No way, they want their raw food to stay high value.
Tell us in the comments if you’re using Real Milk at home and what your animals and you think about it.
- Organic dairies squeezed by Texas mega-farms, Wisconsin’s small organic dairies squeezed by Texas mega-farms, https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2018/03/24/wisconsins-small-organic-dairies-squeezed-texas-mega-farms/455330002/
- Six “Organic” Dairies in Texas Outproduce 453 Organic Dairies in Wisconsin – Cornucopia Institute, Six “Organic” Dairies in Texas Outproduce 453 Organic Dairies in Wisconsin, https://www.cornucopia.org/2018/03/six-organic-dairies-in-texas-out-produce-453-organic-dairies-in-wisconsin/?utm_source=eNews&utm_medium=email&utm_content=3.31.18&utm_campaign=TXDairyMORE
- THE FACTS ABOUT REAL RAW MILK – A Campaign for Real MilkA Campaign for Real Milk | A Project of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Real Milk, https://www.realmilk.com/, Webmaster Realmilk.com